Internationally acclaimed tenor, Salvatore Fisichella. Salvatore Fisichella (born May 15, 1943 in Catania, Siciliy) is an Italian operatic tenor, particularly known for his roles in bel canto operas, especially those of Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini. He has been recognized for the ease and vocal brilliance of his singing, and for having sung more of the leading roles in Bellini’s operas than any other 20th century tenor.
Maria Gentile, the renowned Catanese soprano, set Fisichella to work for six long, hard years. And this time the lessons were to end, not with the compliments of the past, but with the stern words: “You can do better.”
The years under Gentile were a time of both trials and dreams, above all when Fisichella found himself listening to the great opera names of the day (Del Monaco, Di Stefano, Corelli, Bergonzi, Raimondi et al.). However, this was also a time of intense personal satisfaction when basking in the applause following his own performances at the small concerts that his teacher arranged to showcase her young pupils.
Results were soon forthcoming as the heavy financial and spiritual burden was lifted in 1970 when Fisichella, gaining the maximum number of points from the judges for the opera pieces presented – I Puritani, La Favorita and Rigoletto – was pronounced outright winner of the XXIV CONCORSO LIRICO ADRIANO BELLI, the prestigious competition held in Spoleto. Maestro Sanpaoli, organizer and leading light of the Spoleto competition, was doubtful that such a young singer could present a repertoire of this standard. After listening to Fisichella and awarding top marks he went on to become one of the young artiste’s most constant supporters, providing a source of endless advice at the outset of his career.
Spoleto was also the venue for Fisichella’s debut performance in the leading role of Massenet’s Werther conducted by Ottavio Ziino. The production was declared to be of the highest calibre and toured the whole of Italy.
Fisichella had entered the Spoleto competition at the behest of his father Filippo who believed unswervingly in his son’s voice and ability to consolidate a career as a singer. It was his dying wish that his son would take part in this most difficult and important test of singing ability. On the evening of his debut, amidst the fans and supporters who had gathered to share the joy of success together with his mother who had travelled the long distance from Catania by train to be with her son, a tear was shed by the newly discovered tenor in memory of his deceased father and it is to this man that Fisichella dedicated his singing career. Two solid points of reference have remained throughout Fisichella’s singing life: the thought that his beloved father would always be watching over him, and the rosaries of his mother which accompany him throughout.
It is at this point that the tenor’s artistic life begins to take a new and exciting turn. 1971 also saw him engaged by the Opera di Roma for two performances of Rigoletto and no less than seven performances of I Puritani conducted by Armando La Rosa Parodi with Mirella Freni and Cornel MacNeill. In the same year he also performed at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo alongside Leila Gencer in Elisabetta Regina d’Inghilterra conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni. One year later he was called upon by the Opera di Roma once again, this time to work with Freni and Ghiaurov in Gounoud’s Faust conducted by George Pretre. April 1973 saw his debut performance at the Teatro Bellini in Catania, working with Lidia Marimpietri in a production of La Boheme conducted by Zoltan Pesko. From this moment on, it becomes extremely difficult to chart Fisichella’s complex and active career as he went on to perform in the world’s foremost theatres, institutions and academies (Rome, Milan, Turin, Venice, Verona, Genoa, Naples, Bari, Palermo, Catania – his native city being host to frequent visits and performances – London, Edinburgh, Paris, Marseilles, Nice, Avignon, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Rouen, Vienna, Bregenz, Lugano, Bern, Basle, Zurich, Berlin, Bonn, Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Dortmund, Essen, Dusseldorf, San Paolo, Montreal, New York , Tokyo, to name but a few). Amongst the plethora of people, performances and places a few are worth mentioning here. In 1973 Fisichella took part in Elisa e Claudio at the Festival mercadantiano in Altamura. In Pesaro in 1975 he is seen to be the only tenor able to face the challenges of Rossini’s Messa di Gloria, a score avoided by many of the bel canto elite. In 1983 Lucca was the setting for his performance in an exquisite production of La Boheme with Katia Ricciarelli. The following year instead saw him sing with Buna Baglioni, Giorgio Zancanaro and Bonaldo Giaiotti at the State Theatre of Bern in Donizetti’s La Favorita conducted by Nello Santi. On this occasion the critic of Der Bund defined Fisichella as “currently the best tenor singer of the Donizetti and Bellini repertoire”, a definition that was taken up by the New York periodical Opera News. It was around this time that Fisichella began to collaborate with Nello Santi, the maestro who would encourage the tenor to make his mark with the challenging roles of I Puritani, La Gioconda, Guglielmo Tell, La Nuit de Mai, Rigoletto, Il Pirata, and the Messa di Requiem. In the same year, 1984, Fisichella performed Rossini’s Stabat Mater at the Konzerthaus in Vienna. Another unforgettable performance for music fans was to come in 1985 at the Bregenz Festival where he once again played Arturo in I Puritani (this time singing alongside La Gruberova and Zancanaro with the conductor Masini). Dortmund also saw him play Arturo in a performance that led Theater Magazine, closely followed by Hellweger, to proclaim Fisichella “a tenor to rival Domingo and Pavarotti”. Again in 1985, Fisichella performs for the Radio Berlin concert to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Vincenzo Bellini’s death.
In November 1986, Fisichella performed for the first time at the Metropolitan in New York with Joan Sutherland. The performance created a stir among the New York press and is proclaimed an unprecedented success. This was a crowning moment of a career that had already reached dizzying heights and Fisichella was confirmed as one of the world’s most widely appreciated tenor opera voices.
In his radio and television appearances and recordings, in opera and concerts alike, Fisichella’s astounding voice has led him to be admired as a great interpreter of music and role with a vocal technique that allows him to reach the highest notes imaginable. Fisichella’s vocal range, flexibility and incisive phrasing have led the singer to branch out beyond the bel canto repertoire into the school of realism, as, for example, in his 1988 performance of La Gioconda at the inauguration of the Teatro Regio in Turin. His performance of Mario Cavaradossi in Tosca at the XXXVI PUCCINI FESTIVAL in the summer of 1990 was a further triumph.
In addition to the operas that have already been mentioned, Fisichella’s repertoire boasts the following: Rigoletto, Nabucco, Verdi’s Requiem Mass, La Traviata, La Boheme, Madam Butterfly, La Favorita, Lucia di Lammermoor, Roberto Devereux, Lucrezia Borgia, Mose’ in Egitto, Rossini’s Otello, Elisabetta Regina d’Inghilterra, Rossini’s Stabat Mater and Messa di Gloria, La Straniera, Beatrice di Tenda, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Faust, Mefistofele, The Two Widows (Smetana), Elisa e Claudio (Mercadante), Luisella (Mannino), and Attila.
The warm reception of Fisichella’s performances has been unanimous among well-respected critics such as Rodolfo Celletti, Giorgio Gualerzi, Paolo Isotta, Teodoro Celli, Guido Pannain, Lorenzo Pinzauti, and Elvio Giudice. Mario Pasi singled out Fisichella as a star performer at the Megaconcert held in Verona Arena to commemorate the centenary of Beniamino Gigli’s birth, (Corriere della Sera 29/8/1990).
Yet another success was seen with the tenor’s interpretation of Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Scala in Milan in May 1992.
The people of Paris showed their appreciation of Fisichella with a 22 minute standing ovation following his performance at the Concerto Belliniano at the Champs Elysees opera house in May 1992, the French press declaring him the most outstanding interpreter of Bellini of his day.
Fisichella’s success was consolidated in the same year with his performance in Il Pirata at the Opernhaus of Zurich.
1993 saw him return to Regio di Parma to sing alongside Kabaivanska and Zancanaro in a well-received Tosca, followed by a long-applauded performance of La Traviata conducted by G. Kuhn at the Verona Arena and a performance of Rigoletto at the Teatro Grande in Brescia together with Leo Nucci.
In 1994 Fisichella returned to the Bellini Opera Theatre in Catania with “I PURITANI”. This was also the period of M. Bolognini’s production of Madam Butterfly with Kabaivanska and Sandro Sequi’s production of La Traviata, first at the Teatro Massimo, Palermo, then again in the Abao Theatre in Bilbao.
On 16th October 1994 the Sicilian Tourist Authority’s BELLINI D’ORO PRIZE was conferred upon Fisichella at the Teatro Massimo Bellini, Catania, in recognition of the singer’s unique qualities. However, this honour also reflects the sheer number of Bellini opera roles Fisichella has undertaken as the foremost performer of Bellini’s works of his century. Its conferment has ensured that Fischella will be remembered as one of the greatest interpreters of the cigno catanese, the swan of Catania. Further international acclaim was won with the VIII GIACOMO LAURI VOLPI INTERNATIONAL PRIZE on 17th December of the same year in the competition organised by the City of Rome in conjunction with the Teatro dell’Opera.
In 1995 Fisichella performed in the production of Bellini’s La Favorita broadcast live on Italian National Radio and acclaimed by critics and audience alike. Similar success was seen together with Leo Nucci with Rigoletto at the Opernhaus in Zurich. Conducted by Santi, the production was later taken to the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona. Together with Ricciarelli Fisichella was invited to the closing concert of the Homage to Pietro Mascagni celebrations organised in Vizzini to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Mascagni’s death. The concert took place against the natural backdrop to Cavelleria rusticana and was acclaimed throughout the world of music and culture. Another success was to come with Verdi’s Requiem in Solingen with The MGV Wupperhorf Choir 1812, of which Fisichella is an honourary member. On this occasion Fisichella performed together with Rybarska, Baglioni, and Nesterenko and the concert was recorded on CD.
In 1996 Fisichella returned to Tokyo for an unforgettably sumptuous production of La Traviata with June Anderson. 1996 saw him perform in Mario Monicelli’s centenary fine production of La Boheme at the 42nd Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago. Fisichella performed three concerts of Verdi’s Requiem conducted by Nello Santi at the Teatro Filarmonico in Verona and the Teatro Sociale in Mantua. 1997 saw him return to the Zurich Opernhaus to perform Rigoletto, alternating with Nucci and Zancanaro.
On the occasion of the inaugural concerts for the newly restored Teatro Massimo in Palermo he performed together with Gasdia, Casolla, and Peterson in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony conducted by Neschling. He sang again with Nucci in La Traviata and the Requiem Mass at the III Festival d’Opera d’Avence. At the VII Classical Open Air Festival in Solothurn he performed with Nucci to great applause both in La Boheme and Rigoletto. Another important engagement followed at Verona’s Teatro Filarmonico where he sang the extremely difficult piece by Verdi – Inno delle nazioni, conducted by Maurizio Arena.
The Cathedral of Catania saw him perform Geremia’s unpublished Missa pro defunctis 1809 and Bellini’s Messa seconda in g minor with Katia Ricciarelli. The concert was conducted by Douglas Bostock and was recorded for Classico records.
In 1998 Fisichella was again to sing with Katia Ricciarelli, this time performing in three large-scale New Year’s concerts organised by the Sicilian Regional Authorities, all of which proved very popular with the public. He also performed in Teatro Massimo Bellini’s production of Rigoletto in Catania (with Nucci and Pace, conducted by Nello Santi) and in the Concerto dei grandi tenori siciliani organised by the same theatre to great acclaim. This was the period in which Fisichella was presented with the GIGLI D’ORO award at the second Una vita per la Musica event held in Recanati, native town of the golden tenor himself.
In 1999 Fisichella was once again invited to perform at the Puccini Festival in an unforgettable production of La Boheme. The same year saw Fisichella, together with two illustrious fellow performers, in a memorable open air Concerto sotto le stelle in Recanati, singing in the same square where Gigli had so often entertained his home public.
In Johnstown (Pittsburgh-USA) Fisichella received a warm welcome in the long-awaited annual concerto-festival at the Pasquarilla Center.
2000 continued with performances of Macbeth at the Teatro Massimo in Catania, Madam Butterfly at the Puccini Festival, and a production of La Boheme at the Den Norske Opera in Oslo.
Fisichella opened the new millennium with two concerts on a grand scale in Beijing, one on New Year’s Eve, the other on New Years’ Day. On this occasion he had the honour of being the only European singer invited to perform with the three largest choirs and orchestras of China. During the Anno Belliano celebrations he was a major contributor together with Lucia Aliberti and Roberto Frontali in Teatro Massimo Bellini’s production of Il Pirata in Catania.
2001 also involved performing Rigoletto in the Opera Gala at the Stadttheater, St. Gallen.
In his radio review of Fisichella’s performance in France of Guglielmo Tell, Jacques Guy, the French critic and collector had this to say: “He outclasses them all. The beauty of tone and the ease with which he hits both the high and the extreme high notes was already well known. But today’s performance contained a dream-like mid range and sumptuous lower notes. I can add nothing more except to say that I feel blessed to be alive to witness such moments of unforgettable artistry thanks to this tenor from Catania.”
Alain-Marc Delbouys’ review states instead:
“ …in his top notes are no tricks or illusions. It is the tessitura of the voice itself which comes together and takes shape, making him one of the top ten tenors of all time.” (La Depeche 16/1/1994)
Following a brief outline of Fisichella’ career, the Dictionary of Opera by Harold Rosenthal & John Warrack, edited by Roland Mancini & J.J. Rouveroux (Arthem Fayard, 1995) concludes that Fisichella’s is “…a voice that has remained intact after 25 years of singing, quite simply the most lovely tone of the Italian tenors of our day.”
Salvatore Fischella lives in Santa Agata li Battiati with his lovely and attentive wife Fiorella, who boasts degrees both in Political Science and the Arts. Her intelligence and discretion have allowed the singer to live a peaceful and loving home life together with son Filippo, currently studying at university, and younger daughter Lucia Martina (Lulù), who appears to be following in her father’s footsteps with her pleasant voice and her joy of singing.